How to Talk to Your Children about Your Weight Struggles
By Jessica Charbonneau, LCSW
Every day, parents are confronted with challenging questions and situations for which we feel immensely unprepared. For many of us, questions about weight are particularly difficult to answer since feelings about weight and obesity are often complicated by both our own personal struggles and the conflicting messages we receive through the media and society at large. A recent WebMD/Sanford Health survey found that parents of teenagers actually find it more difficult to talk about weight with their children than sex, drugs, alcohol or smoking! So, if you struggle with how to approach this topic – you are not alone. But here are a few tips that may help.
First off, don’t panic. It’s ok to talk about weight but try not to focus on the weight itself. Avoid focusing on the dieting, the calorie counting, the actual numbers on the scale—instead focus on the benefits of living a healthy life and all of the steps you are taking in order for you to achieve this for yourself and for them. This message of healthy living can help prevent eating disorders and weight problems on both ends of the spectrum, according to the AAP.
Secondly, make it age-appropriate. The discussion you will have with your child will vary depending on their age. Weight is complicated. Younger children don’t typically have the cognitive capacity to understand all of the specifics when it comes to gaining or losing weight. Teenagers are much more likely to be dealing with peer pressure and other life issues, which is an important additional factor to consider. Teenagers are also more apt to be able to understand surgical options like gastric sleeve and bypass procedures. So always keep your child’s age in mind.
1. Acknowledge the situation and thank your child for sharing his/her feelings with you to build their confidence and a sense of security.
2. Ask your child open-ended questions so he/she can express their own feelings on the matter.
3. Identify that weight is a matter of health, not your appearance.
4. Inform your child that being healthy can be challenging, but be sure to emphasize the benefits of being healthy.
5. Ask if they will work with you – working together creates a supportive environment for you and increases their understanding.
6. Lastly, address self-acceptance - This is the body I have, and I want to work with it to be healthy— overweight individuals have every right to be happy and content with their own bodies.
And just remember… Don’t shy away from those tough discussions regarding weight.
“There is no such thing as a perfect parent. So just be a real parent.” (Sue Atkins)